ALS News: From a Councillor - Do You Represent the Future of Land Surveying?

Jennifer Jackson, ALS
Do you represent the future of land surveying? While nothing is certain, I have learned to look for three specific things in people. These traits give me a sense of whether the people I am engaging with represent my envisioned future. I’ll share these in a moment but first I want to tell you a story.
This is my story and it will focus on my experience of being excluded. Specifically, this exclusion happened early in my career as an articling student working out in the field. It entailed not being invited along with my male colleagues, “the guys,” after work. I assumed at the time that they had their reasons for not wanting me there and, to be perfectly honest, well, I had different interests for “entertainment.”
Other times, I experienced that exclusion while completing tasks that others may have felt were beyond my capability. I pounded pins, dug holes, ran a chainsaw, rode ATVs. I happily took on these assigned tasks – to prove to myself and to them that I could be an equal and valuable member of the crew. The odd time, however, it became apparent that this wasn’t about being treated equally – this was about entertainment…and I was the one performing.
Have you ever had a suggestion or an idea but decided against offering it because of the ridicule you had been subjected to previously? While in the field and even in the office environment, as a young professional, I quickly learned to keep my head down, my mouth shut and my ideas to myself. Any innovative thinking and creative ideas were excluded from the conversation because I believed that they were without merit and unwelcomed based on previous reactions and responses.
All of these experiences are not unique, of course. While I am a female in a male-dominated industry, a visible minority and maybe have a different approach to thinking – I am not here to talk about righting wrongs, addressing issues of diversity, past injustices, or anything of the sort. Fundamentally, I am committed to creating a different future of inclusivity, where broadening diverse experiences and approaches are valued, (not just “tolerated,” or “accommodated”). I don’t want special treatment. I just want to be included for who I am and what I bring to the table…which brings me to the three traits I seek in advocates and champions for creating what I believe is the future of the land survey industry.

First, in conversations, I look for the presence of fear. How fearful is the individual with whom I am speaking? Are they frightened of the “way things are going” or of the future in general? Are they reactive or defensive in their language, positioning or in their perspectives? There is a huge difference in talking with someone who is fearful, frightened or trepidatious when compared to someone who is excited, eager, and interested in learning and growing. Most often, the future is seen in a negative light and one that “we” need to defend ourselves against or at least protect ourselves from. Are these the people that represent the future of land surveying? I don’t think so. People who are frightened of change are the ones who avoid the future… On the other hand, there are those who are authentically self-confident, welcoming of input, insight, and ideas of others. They see different experiences and thought approaches not as something to be feared, but rather as an antidote to that fear. Inclusivity enables flexibility, adaptability, and resilience in the face of future challenges.
The second thing I look for in my conversations is for evidence of a scarcity mindset. For example, “there isn’t enough to go around so if someone else wins, then I lose.” This certainly can be a compelling argument to rally the troops but… is it accurate? Does it define the future of our industry? Is protecting our “share” definitive of our future? I don’t think so. What I value in my conversations with people are those who are actively seeking or creating outright, win-win solutions. They are looking for collaboration, mutually beneficial working agreements and for different and innovative ways of growing the pie – not just slicing the existing pie up in different ways. What are the value creation options and opportunities that not only benefit our industry but our clients and other stakeholders? Thinking the same way as “before” might provide some solutions, but I am betting on the new ways of thinking. Yes – being inclusive of different lived experiences and thinking styles in my mind creates the biggest opportunity for realizing the abundance of opportunities in front of us.
The final characteristic I look for in my conversations is genuine curiosity. Are the people I am speaking with genuinely curious about hearing other perspectives, thoughts or ideas or are they locked in the cell of critical thinking, where anything new cannot possibly work for many reasons? Please don’t be mistaken, I love critical thinking. However, I prefer not to start there. I want to start with expansion, not retraction. I want to start with exploration, not entrenchment. I want to know what it is that I am blind to and perhaps through conscious conversation, expose things to others that they have been blind to. I truly want to explore the landscape of possibility, preferably with someone whose lived experience and thinking style is so different from my own that they will see things that I have missed, highlight things I have taken for granted and imagine pathways and possibilities that I have failed to consider.
So, do you represent the future of land surveying and, if you want to be part of creating that future, what does that mean? I suggest that we put the labels aside, leave the training programs for now, shelve the special treatment and quotas and instead focus on the following:
  1. Have confidence and don’t be frightened of things beyond the current horizon. Authentic self-confidence can be a choice. Choose to meet the future with understanding that is your adaptability, creativity, and openness to seeing things differently that will define your future success. Choose growth over protection. Welcome inclusion of different experiences and thinking styles.
  2. Embrace the abundance mindset. Value is created, not just redistributed. When we stop worrying about our “share,” we open up a plethora of possibilities for creating value. One of the most powerful vehicles available to discover, develop and realize those opportunities is again, placing value on the different lived experiences and thinking styles of others.
  3. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, remain curious. Forsake your assumptions, your projections and what you think you know…and seek more knowledge. Centre your conversations around exploring the landscape, rather than on being right or on limiting things to the way they are and have always been. What else is possible? How else might you see it? Who can help expand your perspective based on their different lived experiences and thinking styles?

    Diversity, inclusion and equality represent huge issues needing to be addressed but also incredible opportunities looking to be realized. From my perspective, the enemy to our future and collective success is exclusion; whether intentional or otherwise. The antidote, I believe, is simply having a genuine and meaningful conversation with people about differences based on authentic self-confidence, an abundance mindset and genuine curiosity.
    What are you up for? What is the future you want to create? Maybe we can chat about that…let’s start the conversation…

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The Alberta Land Surveyors' Association (ALSA) is a self-regulating professional association legislated under the Land Surveyors Act. The Association regulates the practice of land surveying for the protection of the public.